Stage Appropriate Marketing: Stage 2 - Start-Up
~ Cheryl Flury
Deciding which marketing efforts are needed as your business grows and matures can be confusing. This series of articles on "Stage Appropriate Marketing" will recommend marketing activities for each stage of a business’ evolution.
Stage 2: Start-Up - Here We Go!
The Start-Up Stage is where things get exciting. If you’ve been thinking for years about starting a company, and the seed stage lingered on as you perseverated about your business idea, be prepared. The Start-Up Stage is all about planning for action.
This post will focus on ways to deploy intelligent marketing strategies, toward the goal of moving your business through start-up efficiently. Remember this series is focused on B2B businesses, so the marketing ideas here will be more geared toward those in the B2B than B2C space.
In this stage, your primary marketing strategy is developing awareness. Just like Nuke LaLoosh in the movie Bull Durham, it’s time to “announce your presence with authority!” (If you’re too young to have seen the movie – and you’re looking forward to baseball season – it’s worth going back to check out the reference.)
Here is The Top 10 List for Marketing Your Start-Up Business:
10) Create a Corporate Marketing Plan. When you were in the Seed stage, you fine-tuned your business plan; now you need a corporate marketing plan. Not sure where to start?
Situation Analysis. It’s ok to just make a bulleted list, but then, organize it into a SWOT. (Remember Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to your business, Opportunities and Threats are external.) A SWOT helps create context around the trends and activities influencing your business, and gives you a framework for evaluation.
Need some help getting your list started? Schedule phone interviews with employees, customers, friendly prospects, board members and industry thought leaders; review recent articles in relevant trade publications; jot down comments you’ve heard from prospects or customers (especially if they’ve recently made a “buy / no buy” decision related to your business); check out topics being covered at upcoming industry conferences (the agendas should be highly reflective of what’s happening in your industry and what your customers care about); and leverage industry association newsletters and member communications.
Build Corporate Marketing Goals, Strategies, Objectives, Tactics. Need a quick refresher? Here’s an article in Forbes that summarizes the difference between these. In a nutshell:
A goal is a broad primary outcome; it is measurable and time-based
A strategy is the approach you take to achieve a goal (it’s “what” you’ll do, not “how” you’ll do it)
An objective is a measurable step you take to achieve a strategy
A tactic is a tool you use in pursuing an objective associated with a strategy (it’s “how” not “what”)
Budget. While quite industry- and company-specific, the Wall Street Journal estimates marketing budgets now average 11% of total company budgets, up from a previous average of 10.4%. Determine what you can spend in marketing during the Start-Up Stage and spread your dollars between infrastructure and market coverage. (Remember your marketing strategy at this stage is awareness.)
Measurement. Determine what you’ll measure and when. Plan check-points at least quarterly. Don’t wait until the end of the year to decide if your marketing programs are achieving goals.
9) Build Go-to-Market plans for each of your products/services. Remember, these are specific to each[KS1] product and include: positioning, value proposition and messaging; goals and objectives (based on revenue goals); product line strategies and tactics that align to corporate goals; available marketing channels; and, your product marketing budget. Go-to-Market plans ultimately roll-up to the Corporate Marketing Plan, so be sure your numbers add up, your strategies are aligned, and you’re speaking to your customers with a consistent, powerful voice.
8) Got Pilots? If you have pilots or customers, it’s not too early for testimonials. You’ve built a value proposition for your product, so now let’s measure. Are savings living up to expectations? Do you have tools to measure value? Is there a customer who can help document results? If you’re in an industry where the leading-edge looms like a terrifying cliff, let your early adopters help bring along the fast-followers. Measure not only how your solution saves money, but also, look for other positive benefits, like business process changes and new efficiencies. Documenting results benefits sales: customer value studies performed by my colleague Susan Ganey helped the sales team close more than 70% of new sales.
7) Update Your Brand! You’ve got a bit more experience now. Your products and services may have already evolved based on market response. You’ve had time to test your elevator pitch and key messages. At the same time, your competitors may have changed. Refine your brand messaging and update your competitive analysis. Make sure your messages are specific, differentiating, and resonating with your market. Corporate messaging needs to uniquely describe your business.
Funny story: several years ago, my colleague Kristin Snow, who specializes in messaging, took headlines, taglines, vision and mission statements from 10 healthcare companies in near-neighbor businesses. After review, she found that every statement was made by combining the same 7-8 words, in slightly different order. If you sound like everyone else, you’ll be seen just like everyone else, especially in an overcrowded, highly competitive market. Or worse – your prospects won’t know what you do! Remember: Branding is a journey, not a single summit.
6) Build Your Processes. If you now have both sales and marketing activities underway – whether you have employees or you’re doing everything yourself – identify steps of your sales and marketing processes. Understand what you’ll consider a lead, how you’ll track them, what your handoffs are, how you’ll manage the sales funnel, what it takes to advance a lead to a prospect to an opportunity – and how it becomes a closed deal.
5) Implement Public Relations Strategies. Undoubtedly “Public Relations” appears in your corporate marketing and Go-to-Market product plans, so be sure you’re ready to execute. Do you have an in-house resource or do you need someone external? It may depend on your plans. Great public relations isn’t just press releases – although I do hope you’re using releases to announce your company, new leadership team members, new customers, product launches and enhancements. Instead, public relations is your path to building, creating and sharing great content. And great content is the fuel to your outbound (and inbound) marketing engine.
4) Prioritize and Build Assets. You need to generate leads, and your sales team needs tools to move prospects through the funnel. Determine what belongs in your sales tool kit. I’ve found a helpful step is conducting a content audit and determining what’s needed at each stage of the selling funnel.
Here’s a sample guideline:
3) Prospects: List and Sources. Where will you find your future buyers? There are things you can do for free, but you may also need to invest in some good sources of prospect data, so you can build prospect and contact information. Sales and marketing will be far more efficient[KS5] .
2) Your Website. Build it badly and they won’t come. Is your website about you or your prospects? Have you clearly described your business, solutions and value, within the context of your prospects? Take the “mom” test: If your mom looked at your website, would she know what you do? It’s not about big words and fancy graphics. It’s about your customers, their pain points, their goals, and what they need to succeed.
Build it well and they will come. Focus on developing great content that offers value to your audience. Your future customers AND search engines will appreciate it. Great content fuels your SEO strategies – keep it fresh, keep it smart, and keep it coming!
1) Finally, Begin Building Your Marketing Infrastructure. If you’re adding customers and employees, you need a CRM. Get expert advice on how to set up some of the attributes you’ll live with forever – account structures, lead-to-account conversion methodology and parent/child relationships. Determine how you’ll manage leads, prospects and customers. Your Go-to-Market plan undoubtedly identified campaign strategies; get them set up immediately in your CRM.
What else should you implement during the Start-Up Stage?
You’ll need an outbound email system that integrates with your CRM for tracking, lead scoring, and automated follow-up.
Make sure your website has a Content Management System so marketing and PR can update content. Be sure your site is optimized, mobile and tagged for SEO.
Be ready to capture inbound leads through landing pages and web-to-lead forms; test the integration with your CRM!
You may need a tool to manage social media (depending on your planned activity level).
You’ll need a tool or method to manage SEO and keywords. Tip: you don’t get accurate results searching keywords to see where your company comes up. Search engines know who you are, what you’ve searched for, and what you’ve clicked through to previously. Your search history is now biased.
Decide if paid search words are right for your business. (It’s relatively inexpensive to test. If you’re in a very niche market, this may not be a good spend.)
If you didn’t subscribe to a conference calling/webinar service in Stage 1, it’s time!
Create an account with a newswire service for distribution of releases and media alerts
There is so much marketing technology available – you don’t have to do it all at once. Select pieces that give you a foundation to build on. You may need more as a start-up, depending on your business, but these initial pieces of your MarTech stack will get content flowing.
If you’ve worked in a start-up company, this pace feels familiar. There’s a LOT of stage 2 activity, and a lot of it happens in marketing as you build awareness of your business and solidify your brand. Again, your goal is to move through Start-Up efficiently, by creating an infrastructure, programs and processes that align your business for the next stage: Growth.